Parenting: Getting On The Same Page – gift purchases

[Today’s guest post is from Sarah Tun, who blogs at Life from the Lighthouse (among other places). Anyone who has ever bought a gift for a child will recognize something in this piece!]

Decisions Surrounding Gift Purchases for Our Children

When my son was 2 or maybe 3, he and his dad came home one day from running errands with a bright red electric car, perfectly sized for a little boy. They were so excited.

I was furious.

When is it okay to make spontaneous purchases for our kids devoid of spousal input and when is it not? If we could find a foolproof answer to that question, wouldn’t a lot of households run more smoothly? Ours would – and does, now that we’ve discovered our own and learned each others tastes and priorities for our son.

Navigating birthdays and Christmas, to say nothing of ‘occasional surprises’, has been an on-and-off topic of discussion between my husband and me for several years. Thankfully, we seem to be merging with regard to some choices and with others, respectfully communicating with one another before the ‘gift’ is presented. That way each gets a ‘say’ in what our son receives.

These days there is a plethora of toys. Screen-based items have a wide variety of games, apps and accessories, so in that arena the list is endless. What happens if, as in the case of the red car, there is differing parental opinion about what is suitable and what is not?

In our case, I made it clear to my husband – when my son was outside of sight or earshot – that I objected to the purchase of the car for an array of reasons. I won’t go into those reasons now, though readers of this post who have children will imagine with a degree of clarity, just how vehemently I expressed myself at the time (ahem!). Of course I didn’t expect the car to be returned because that would undermine the father’s decision-making and painfully disappoint our son. But herein is the operative word: ‘our’. Whether I agree or not with my husband’s choices or he with mine, the child is a part of both of us and we are, together, stewards of his life and development.

“How good and how pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity” is from Psalm 133. Perhaps more importantly than in any other relationship does this quote apply to couples parenting their children. Nowadays, if my hubby and I happen to have an intense discussion(!) in front of our son, who is now 8, he sings deliberately and loudly. Once he said,

“I don’t mind if you argue; I’m having a nice time anyway.”

Clearly, heated debate between spouses in front of their children lends a degree of stress to the child and is better left to privacy. But surely unity does not just mean ‘not arguing in front of the kids’ but rather living with the same ultimate goals, using complementary strategies, loving and respecting one another for the perspectives, insights and choices we make.

I believe that by discussing the issue surrounding the giving of presents to their children, parents can find common ground, or by taking turns, couples can at least find a way forward together. How can we find unity as parents when our priorities and experiences might be very different from each other? What principles can we apply to decide when and what to buy? What guidelines do we follow to decide how much to spend? To avoid arguments and stress between parents and to avoid the possibility of being bulldozed by a demanding child, finding answers to some of these questions will enable parents to take a stand together and can pre-empt disagreements.

J with Teddy

(“Christmas with Teddy”)

I learned from the car experience, and I know too, that good can come out of anything. At 8 my son still fits in the car and drives extremely well. He even reminds me to signal when I’m changing lanes – on those rare (?) occasions when I’ve forgotten. And my husband has learned too. Last summer, he came home from an outing with a friend and summoned me to the car. In the back seat was an enormous teddy bear (53” to be precise), sitting in our son’s usual spot.

“$37.00,” he said, “And I couldn’t resist it. What do you think?”

“Wonderful,” I said and then we summoned our son.

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28 Responses to Parenting: Getting On The Same Page – gift purchases

  1. Adriana says:

    I must say — what a darling little boy! He is certainly blessed with parents who love and care for him very much. This post makes me think of how our Father in heaven delights in giving gifts to His children.

  2. Jeannie says:

    Hey Sarah – I read this post at your place the other day and it’s great to see it here. I have to say your son’s comment is priceless (no pun intended): “I don’t mind if you argue, I’m having a nice time anyway.” That sounds like a child who’s secure in his parents’ love for him and each other.

  3. Sarah Tun says:

    Thanks Jeannie. Sometimes we’re confident – all in our family dynamics seems to be ticking along seamlessly (surprise pun!). Then other moments all seems to be ‘pear-shaped’ or ‘heading south’. Thanks to know the Redeemer who brings all moments to light and all relationships to life!

  4. Tim says:

    We’ve had those moments as well, Sarah. One time it was a toy guitar, and that one was a brief point of contention. Another time I’d gone on a trip and came back with a book for each of the kids. My wife asked what made me think of doing that and I said “So I’m an indulgent father. Sue me.” The kids enjoyed the books.

    • Mary Anne says:

      Speaking as a librarian, I think kids should be “indulged” (and deluged) with books often, on every conceivable and inconceivable(!) occasion . . . 😉

      • Sarah Tun says:

        Especially in this day-and-age where there’s so much distraction and temptation away from books! Hmm, maybe e-books are a great idea – kids can get the screen time they crave and we get the encouragement that they are reading! Thanks for your v astute thoughts, Mary Anne.

  5. Sarah Tun says:

    I guess it depends on the books, the policy you as a couple adopted (either before purchases or – as with us – after a contentious purchase. Lessons learned are always too our benefit, to say nothing of the children’s. Books are almost always great, anyway!

    • Tim says:

      I think part of it depends too on trusting your spouse’s motives and decision making skills, and giving some wiggle room in allowing them to pursue some things on their own initiative. That’s probably easier for me, though, in that my personality type does not get too wigged out by what other people do, even if it’s not how I would have done it.

      • Sarah Tun says:

        Yes, I agree Tim. I find the longer we are married the better my husband and I learn to trust the judgement of the other. Maternal instincts are so strong, not always accurate but usually so. That’s got to be a difficult thing the the husband to navigate. And then, I think men too have their own (perhaps under-rated) instinct for their children. When my son was born I’d been ‘trained’ to bathe him daily. My husband said, ‘no, don’t do it’ but I said, ‘I must’. After about 4 months we realized J had very dry skin and ultimately a mild case of eczema, which persists to this day. I suppose the bathing didn’t cause it, but I still regret not listening to my husband. Nevertheless, “As all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose,” I do listen better to my husband now and trust he’s got parental instincts too. Thanks for writing, Tim.

  6. Adriana says:

    I keep thinking of Bill Cosby’s “Dad is Great, Give Us the Chocolate Cake!”
    I’d post the link, but I don’t want to keep filling Tim’s comment section with YouTube videos. 😀

    • Tim says:

      Oh go ahead, Adriana!

      • Adriana says:

        OK, here’s the link to the whole thing. His wife has told him to get up and make breakfast for their 5 kids. The best part starts at around 3:30. This is when he comes down to the kitchen.

        • Sarah Tun says:

          SO much wisdom in Cosby. If he hadn’t been an actor/stand-up he might have been a fabulous family counselor!

        • Adriana says:

          Yes, he helps me laugh at myself! I love the part where his wife has a conniption and fire is shooting out of her eyes! 😀 My husband would agree with Cosby and point out that there is SOME nutrition in chocolate cake. (eggs, milk)

  7. “Clearly, heated debate between spouses in front of their children lends a degree of stress to the child and is better left to privacy. But surely unity does not just mean ‘not arguing in front of the kids’ but rather living with the same ultimate goals, using complementary strategies, loving and respecting one another for the perspectives, insights and choices we make.”

    This is very comforting to hear. My daughter’s only 1 1/2, but I always feel so bad when we argue in front of her. We always apologize to her afterwards, but I always feel so terrible. It’s good to remember that there’s a more holistic way to view it — that she sees that her dad and I are on the same page in our lives in general. Although arguments are better done behind closed doors so she won’t get confused, it’s okay to admit that we are human and need forgiveness (And that arguing does not mean we don’t love her or each other, and that we can work through our disagreements in love).

    Thanks for the post!

    • Sarah Tun says:

      I like the reference in that quote to ‘respect’. Mutual respect is so important isn’t it. And I believe the best thing we can do is to be ‘real’ with our kids and with each other. Never arguing is probably not real for most couples (certainly in our household there are differences of opinion). Whether we discuss, debate, argue, agree, laugh, cry – it’s all part of being a family and being intimate with one another. To apologize, to reconcile, these are just as important to learn as to be in harmony. Saying that, finding common approaches also enables children to have a sense of security, of knowing the boundaries. I think I heard it said that unity is not the same as uniformity – and I like that catch phrase. Thanks for checking in, Rachel.

  8. Tuija says:

    Thanks for your interesting post, Sarah!
    My first thought was that ‘gifts for our child’ has been one of the easy areas in our parenting journey. It probably helps that we both came into the marriage with fairly similar attitudes towards money matters – and neither is really an impulse buyer. It’s easy to agree when we usually start at the same page. (Now just to get the grandparents to the same page, too – but that’s a way different topic 😉 I’m not complaining – ours are very good and they do respect our wishes – but since our son is the only grandchild on both sides….)

    Still I got good food for thought from the post – the same principles can also be applied in most of parenting decisions: when we have different experiences, expectations and priorities, we need to talk things over and get to the same page – and how vital it is to trust the other person’s good intentions and parenting instincts through the process.

    Is it your son with the giant teddy bear? He’s cute! (I mean the son, not the bear. 🙂 )

    • Sarah Tun says:

      That is my son ( I rarely post pictures of family ); thank you… though I think the bear is cute too!
      Yes, in terms of parenting, there is so much to navigate but when we have our best intentions, respect the other parent we’re onto a ‘winning formula’ I think. As to grandparents, I think you’ve to a great post to compose!! Thanks for stopping into mine, Tuija. This is the first of a 4-part series on ‘Parenting on the Same Page”

  9. Sarah Tun says:

    To Adriana’s comment about the nutrients in Choc Cake – I think my husband would say the same. Perhaps this is one of those gender-confined issues: How to quantify the nutritional value of a dessert?

  10. Sarah Tun says:

    As this day draws to a close, I’d like to thank all of you who have responded to Parenting: Getting on the Same Page re purchases. It has been fun for me and informative. And Tim thank you so much for encouraging me to be a guest blogger. What a joy!
    I look forward to further comments on this blog post. If you’d like to see further parts to the ‘Same Page’ series they are (and will be) at
    I look forward to many more chats through Tim’s ‘Train Wreck’ as well. God bless and thank you all who have engaged with me today.

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